Why We Read Blogs We Disagree With

In a conversation I had today, two insights were offered that I believe are worth sharing. The first is that, while there is definitely an overall tendency for people to read things that confirm rather than disagree with their convictions, assumptions, and biases, this is less true when it comes to blogs.

The second is an explanation why this might be the case: If you read a book you disagree with, you cannot shout at the author (well, obviously you can, but she or he won’t hear you, and the people around you may question your sanity). But on a blog you can instantly voice your disagreement so that the author and their other readers a exposed to your opinion.

What do others think? Is it true that we are more likely to (regularly) read a blog we disagree with than watch a news show or read a periodical of a similar sort? If so, do you think it is because of the opportunity to make our disagreement heard, and do so instantaneously?

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  • notpmoc84

    I think a big part of it is that reading blogs is easier to do.  To read a book we disagree with we have to take time, as well as money spent to get the book (think of your experience w/ Doherty’s book). A blog post we can read on a break at work, or when we have a few free minutes, and so there is no real investment.  This means we can give other viewpoints the time of day.  I try to follow blogs of various viewpoints, partially to combat my tendency towards confirmation bias, but I don’t often post my disagreement.

  • Guest

    “on a blog you can instantly voice your disagreement so that the author and their other readers are exposed to your opinion.”

    Not true of Jim West’s blog, which lots of people disagree with, and where he censors comments heavily.  A blog like his is often read because of its sheer inanity e.g. http://zwingliusredivivus.wordpress.com/2011/07/17/so-let-me-get-this-straight-in-america/
    Because Casey Anthony went free, he wants other criminals to go free too, to preserve “some sense of justice in the world.”!  Or some such convoluted and stupid “reasoning” . . .

  • Robert Fisher

    I have often read books and periodicals I disagreed with. I have often listened to radio shows I disagreed with. I have often watched TV shows I disagree with. On the one hand, it is because I want to understand the opposing point-of-view and because I’m open to being persuaded that I am wrong. More than that, though, I suspect it is just because it is more interesting.

    I do this with blogs on occasion, but I would actually say that—for me—it happens less with blogs. Which I suppose could be that most of the blogs I read are more about news on a subject I’m interested in or sources of creative inspiration.

    Or maybe it’s a bigger trend. Maybe as I’m getting older, I’m becoming less interested in controversy, and that is merely corresponding with the rise of blogs, so I notice it there more.

  • Geoff Hudson

    “If so, do you think it is because of the opportunity to make our disagreement heard, and do so instantaneously?”

    I am simply grateful to post and not have it deleted.

  • Michael Bird

    We read things we disagree with to enable us to keep our disgust fresh!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-Wilson/1355591760 Michael Wilson

    I like the challenge of the short debate of an issue, and their is more debate with people with whom you disagree.

  • Howard Mazzaferro

    When I read the title, I thought James wrote a post about me. :)

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath


  • Anonymous

    When I was younger (in the days before the internet) I used to read things I disagreed with all the time. I often composed replies to them–not so much for the purpose of sending them to the authors (which I don’t think I ever did), but for putting my own thoughts in order. Sometimes I learned from them. On rare occasions they caused me to change my ideas.

    As the years have passed I don’t do that so much any more, at least when it comes to reading people with whose basic approach I completely disagree. David Barton’s views on the American origins, James Churchward’s on ancient history, or Charlton Ogburn’s on Elizabethan drama are so far removed from the standards of historical scholarship as to make them unintelligible to me, and frankly (except for certain matters of detail) uninteresting. I feel the same way about most expositions of Mythicism I’ve seen, except that for Mythicism I feel a certain affection, since when I first ran into the stories about Jesus as a child, it seemed obvious to me that it was a solar myth (birth at the time of the solstice, the twelve disciples and the twelve signs of the zodiac, and so on). As I learned more I put away such childish things and moved on.

    Anyway, I don’t regularly read blogs I disagree with–but I think that’s just a function of having less patience than i once did–and less expectation of getting anything valuable from it. I often read individual posts from blogs I disagree with, though, when I’m trying to get various angles on a topic. I almost never post replies at blogs I disagree with; I usually save that for a blog entry at my own.

    When i started this comment it seemed relatively simple: I personally don’t read or comment on blogs that disagree with me. But as I write it crosses my mind that i don’t actually agree with most of the blogs I do read and comment on; it’s more that their authors share certain common assumptions about the use of evidence and the way the world works with me. And typically they write about some subject I’m actually interested in.

    So, anyway, while I can’t confirm it by my own habits, it seems reasonable to me that the ability to respond to a piece you disagree with might encourage more people to read it; it’s a reasonable hypothesis at any rate. On the other hand I can’t help but feel that the dubious pleasure of arguing (say) with a presuppositionalist is overrated. Or an Oxfordian. If evidence is meaningless there’s no common ground for discussion.

  • Howard Mazzaferro

    For a little more in-depth response to this post, I would say that people do not generally respond to books in the same way because:

    1. A book is big and covers various subjects with each chapter, a response would have to be in the form of a critical review and take lots of time and effort to complete. A blog is a short article on one subject, and a response can be one sentence to a few paragraphs.

    2. If someone was willing to write a review of a book, he would then have to locate the author and then find a way to communicate with the author to share his views. That’s provided that the author even cares to communicate with the reviewer. The blog’s author is right there where you are reading and he is asking you to respond and after you compose your brief response, you click a button.

    3. No one really cares if Joe Schmo disagrees with one of Emanuel Tov’s books, including Emanuel Tov. One of the main features of a blog is to receive public response, if the author desires.

    People read books and blogs they agree with when they are in a learning mode, they read ones they disagree with when they are in an argumentative mode. :)

  • Anonymous

    I read blogs that I disagree with all of the time. I read them more often then the ones I agree with since there are more of them. And I like commenting. If anyone really cares to know the truth you must read blogs you disagree with because it has been proved that we mostly seek to confirm what we believe rather than disconfirm it. How can we overcome this bias? By reading things we disagree with. When it comes to science this may not apply since no one wants to waste much of his time on reading crack pot science. But when it comes to religion it must apply.

    And I’ll tell you what doing so has done for me.

    It has made me more knowledgeable and a stronger opponent of what I debunk, and so for that reason alone it is worth it. If however, your faith suffers from doing so then it means your faith isn’t worth having. So it is a win-win proposition. Either doing so will make your stronger or you will come to better understand the truth.


    As an aside, I think complaints about Jim West censuring comments so often should disqualify him from being a Biblioblogger. He is not interested in interacting with people who disagree and gaining the perspective I just outlined.

  • Robert A

    Through my trusty RSS reader on my iPad I can easily follow about two dozen blogs which come from a variety of viewpoints. Honestly, most of the blogs I follow are ones that I don’t agree with often. (Including this blog) Over the past two years I’ve completely stopped watching television so the news thing isn’t my bag.

    I enjoy a variety of perspectives and prefer reasoned arguments over fleeting attempts at scholarship. One of the reasons I read books I don’t agree with is because it sharpens my perspective and allows me to consider matters from other vantage points.

    Feedback is not that important to me. Often I don’t bother trying to give feedback to the author (I’ve never sent an email to someone I disagree with.)

  • Kaz

    Like everyone else, I think that there are a variety of features that make blogs interesting.  First and foremost is the simple joy of reading different perspectives, esp. those that come from folks who are, if not scholars, at least scholarly in their approach.  Groups and forums where religious issues are discussed often have participants who are given to vitriol and nastiness, and I find myself avoiding them more and more as a result.   

    Second, it helps one to get to know the person.  A book written for a scholarly audience, like John’s Apologetic Christology, tells us a great deal about the author’s view of Christology but much less about the author. 

    Third, in at least one case it afforded me the opportunity to see how an author would answer certain counterarguments that I find extremely challenging to his view.  It was satisfying to have the counterarguments tested by one of the leading scholars in the field, and to confirm the power of the counterarguments, as the answers given didn’t mitigate their force, IMO.

    The reason I started reading this blog is because I found many of Jame’s Christological views interesting and compelling.  Once I spent some time here, however, I began to find the atmosphere less appealing, and I now find that I visit here less and less often as time goes on.


  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    @19db7b16f428afc9473d6fc0fe93ae2b:disqus, I am really sorry to hear that you have found the discussion of Christology and the entire atmosphere of the blog so disappointing. I would really value hearing more from you about this, and to have the opportunity to work on improving things.